Health early warning system for East Africa still in the pipeline

East African Community ministers  responsible for social development met in Bujumbura in October and urged the fast-tracking of  an integrated e-health regional information network to identify, confirm and respond rapidly to outbreaks of diseases with international ramifications.

That’s the good news.

The not so good news is that this project was due to be piloted in 2007.

In the wake of the 2005 World Summit on the Information Society a Telemedicine Task Force (now known as the  eHealth Task Force for Africa) was  set up with a mandate to develop a comprehensive picture of telemedicine opportunities in Africa. Three pilot projects were proposed for development in 2007, the third being RIHMIS – The Regional Integrated eHealth Management Information System for East Africa.

It’s original objectives were to

  • set up, host and manage an EAC RIHMIS/GIS database.
  • establish RIHMIS/GIS units for offices in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, and Arusha (head office) and link these offices via electronic communications. Establish connectivity of key database servers located in dedicated sites within East Africa through a Wide Area Network (WAN) on the internet, secured by Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology.
  • promote, amongst the relevant stakeholders, the exchange and dissemination of information on Integrated Disease Surveillance (IDS) and other disease control activities in a standardized way. Harmonize disease surveillance systems in the region. Ensure continuous exchange of expertise and best practices for disease surveillance
    and control.

with deliverables

  • RIHMIS/GIS database mapping health and eHealth facilities, as well as communicable and non-communicable diseases, based on digital maps at location, sub-location, district and provincial level using satellite images and geographical position system (GPS).
  • a standardized automated procedure for collecting of such eHealth data from local to national and regional levels and subsequent processing data into GIS layers for graphical presentation.
  • an eHealth data sharing platform and infrastructure that facilitates information exchange from the sub-location level to national level and to regional level.
  • a regional ICT infrastructure for eHealth practice in East Africa.

Dr Grace Saguti, a World Health Organisation official in Tanzania, said it is possible to interconnect the available national e-health networks in the region. Dr Saguti said the ministry responsible for health and livestock in the country already has operational e-health informatics networks that can be modified to become regional. According to Dr Saguti, the country’s Ministry of Health and Social Welfare uses the Zain network to communicate locally available information on infant mortality and pregnancy-related deaths and disorders from far flung areas to head offices in Dar es Salaam.

“Receivers and senders of the information include district health officials, regional health officials and the head offices at Dar es Salaam.The network will use e-health experts to keep governments and the public in the region constantly alert to the threat of outbreaks and ready to respond. It will contribute towards regional health security by combating the cross-border spread of outbreaks, ensuring that appropriate technical assistance reaches affected areas rapidly, and contributing to long-term epidemic preparedness and capacity building.”

via Mohammed Issa of The East African on